It wasn’t in prime time this time, but the Jan. 6 committee held an eyebrow-raising hearing Monday in its second of seven promised ones.
This hearing pulled back the curtain on what life was like on the Trump campaign and in the White House in the days following election night 2020.
With taped testimony from Trump’s campaign advisers and lawyers, the committee painted a picture of a president who refused to listen to the truth, insulated himself in a bubble of election lie conspiracies, fleeced his own supporters out of money based on the lie and wielded the power to incite violence.
Here are 6 takeaways of what we learned from the hearing:
1. It was “Team Normal” vs. Trump.
This is the kind of stuff you usually only get from deeply reported, post-campaign books. Instead, it was live on television with taped, on-camera testimony from the people at the highest levels of the Trump campaign.
The committee used lots of footage from its taped interviews with professionals from Trump’s 2020 campaign – Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller and multiple lawyers. (Stepien was originally scheduled to testify in person but was unable to do so because his wife went into labor.) Stepien said he was happy to be referred to as “Team Normal,” though not everyone buys that rebranding of the person who led the effort to re-elect Trump.
Still, this group of campaign professionals say they all had the same message: they tried to tell Trump the truth – that the outlook was bleak, he should not declare victory on election night, he was going to lose and that his election fraud claims were, as former Attorney General Bill Barr called them: “bogus and silly,” “idiotic,” “stupid,” “complete nonsense,” “crazy stuff.” And that’s not including the three times the Monday viewing audience heard Barr say the claims were “b*******” and “doing a great great disservice to the country.”
2. Trump didn’t listen to the professionals and instead became “detached from reality.”
Trump broke with the team that had run his campaign and was trying to get him re-elected and instead went down a deep rabbit hole of false conspiracies that were debunked repeatedly by lawyers and Justice Department officials.
Barr described the fast-and-furious nature of those conspiracies as “whack-a-mole.” Former Acting Attorney General Richard Donoghue said the Justice Department looked into specifics, they debunked them and told the president that. How’d Trump react?
“He wouldn’t fight us on it, he would just move on to another,” Donoghue said in taped testimony.
According to the testimonies, Trump looked like a president throwing anything he could at the wall to try and stay in power.
“If he really believes this stuff,” Barr said during his interview with the committee. “He’s become detached from reality.”
Trump dismissed the people who knew the numbers and who checked on his false claims. It became clear in the hearing, based on the broad array of testimony, that Trump began listening to three controversial figures – Rudy Giuliani (who Stepien and campaign adviser Jason Miller described as “intoxicated” on election night), lawyer Sidney Powell and former trade adviser Peter Navarro.
3. Coming from so many Republicans testifying, it’s much harder for them to simply be dismissed.
It’s notable that the people the viewing audience heard from Monday in their testimony were all Republicans.
That carries weight. Even when it comes to Stepien – he’s working for Republican Harriet Hageman, the Trump-endorsed candidate in Wyoming, who is challenging Vice Chair Liz Cheney.
These were many of the people in Trump’s inner circle – on his campaign, trying to elect him, and even his family, Jared and Ivanka Trump, who had formally worked in his White House.
Conservatives are getting a different message where they get their news and information, but if they do peek at the primary source material and who it’s coming from – many people who are on their side – it’s possible some might break through.
It at least makes it harder for Trump to dismiss them.
4. The committee began to lay out a fleecing of MAGA
In the second part of the hearing, an investigator for the committee said in a taped interview that $250 million was raised off the election lies from Trump supporters following Election Day, including $150 million in the first week.
But, the investigator said, most of the money went to groups supporting Trump, not to fund court battles. The committee said most of the money went to Save America PAC, which is the major Trump-supporting political action committee. Trump’s press releases go out through it, for example.
It said money also went to other outside groups supporting Trump and where ex-Trump officials pull a salary; a charitable foundation with connections to former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows; and even the Trump hotel chain.
“The Big Lie was also a big rip off,” said committee member Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. She added that Trump “supporters deserve better than what Trump and his allies did.”
A lot of this was presented in summary, but it would be good for the committee to present some of the details of their findings as well. And there’s also a legal question about the fundraising practice – was it illegal or merely corrupt?
5. A lot of people have faced consequences from Jan. 6, but they’re mostly not the people at the top – yet.
In her opening statement, Cheney noted the consequences that many have faced already due to Jan. 6.
“Hundreds of our countrymen have faced criminal charges,” Cheney said. “Many are serving criminal sentences because they believed what Donald Trump said about the election and they acted on it. They came to Washington D.C., at his request, they marched on the Capitol at his request and hundreds of them besieged and invaded the building at the heart of our constitutional Republic.”
More than 840 people have been charged from the Jan. 6 riot and insurrection, but many have said – and the committee has shown – that Trump is who inspired them to be there, and there have been relatively few consequences for him and those in his inner circle who spurred them on.
“As one conservative editorial board put it recently, ‘Mr. Trump betrayed his supporters by conning them on January 6th, and he is still doing it,” Cheney continued.
6. Over two days of hearings, the committee is methodically establishing the building blocks of their public prosecution that Trump is responsible for Jan. 6.
The committee’s case against Trump essentially boils down to this:
-He had the motive (and of course opportunity as president) – to cling to power and to make money.
-He had the capacity to incite violence. That was evidenced by the testimony of former Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt. Once Trump went after him on Twitter, Schmidt said he faced death threats.
-And people acted on what he said. That was clear from testimony from white nationalists Thursday, who said they went to D.C. because they believed they were acting at Trump’s behest. And then after a day of hearing all of the false conspiracies and election lies Trump was throwing out, there was video of people on Jan. 6 echoing those lies.
There are five more hearings to come, including Wednesday and Thursday.
Some 20 million people watched Thursday night. The question is how many will be following and taking in the material themselves rather than through their preferred ideological source of information.